Not So Fast There, Mr. Neutrino

Not So Fast There, Mr. Neutrino February 23, 2012

Back in September the science world was quite excited when researchers at CERN announced the discovery of a faster-than-light neutrino.

One thing that I do know about the scientific enterprise is that no matter how much an idea may be revered, it is always subject to revision by new evidence.  So I was very excited to hear about the little neutrino that could.  Unfortunately, we have now been told that it couldn’t:

…according to the [CERN] receivers, the neutrinos did go faster — not by much, just by 60 nanoseconds, or .0025% of the time it would have taken a light beam to make the trip. But being a little faster than light is like being a little dead; even a tiny bit changes everything. In this case, what the experiment would have changed is the very foundation of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which is itself the foundation of more than a century of physics, and fundamental to our entire understanding of the universe. So people were concerned.

The culprit was a loose cable.  The special theory of relativity is safe for now.

Yet even as I read about this, I couldn’t help but compare the scientific process to the theological one.  In science nothing is sacred.  If an experiment overturns a time-honored principle, so be it.  But just as crucially, no experiment or observation can establish or overturn anything, no matter how cool, until the results are replicated.

With religion, the opposite is true.  You can present all kinds of empirical evidence, but if a time-honored principle is contradicted, good luck getting it reversed.  In fact, the more that the new evidence is reinforced, the deeper the theologians dig in.  And if they were ever to discover that the evidence that contradicted their beloved idea was just the result of a loose cable, you can bet that loose cable would be viewed as the work of Satan.  I’m looking at you, Rick Santorum.

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